Today’s decision to suspend the Mejlis, a representative body of ethnic Crimean Tatars in Crimea, demolishes one of the few remaining rights of a minority that Russia must protect instead of persecute, said Amnesty International.
The decision – announced by the de facto prosecutor of Crimea, Natalia Poklonskaya – signals a new wave of repression against Crimean Tatar people. It comes after increased attacks to the rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression since Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine two years ago.
“Anyone associated with the Mejlis could now face serious charges of extremism as a result of this ban, which is aimed at snuffing out the few remaining voices of dissent in Crimea,” said Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia.
“The decision to suspend the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People and ban all its activities under Russia’s anti-extremism legislation is a repugnant punitive step denying members of the Crimean Tatar community the right to freedom of association.”
The de facto authorities have increasingly targeted those who oppose the annexation of Crimea or are suspected of being pro-Ukrainian in the days before and after Russia’s formal takeover on March 18, 2014. Most of the vocal critics have left the peninsula, including two Crimean Tatar leaders who have been barred from returning.
Earlier the de facto prosecutor of Crimea asked the Supreme Court of Crimea to suspend the Mejlis as an extremist organization. Central to the prosecutor’s arguments for the requested ban are statements made by exiled Mejlis leader Refat Chubarov, who refuses to recognize the legality of the Russian annexation of Crimea and is calling for an economic and energy blockade of the peninsula from mainland Ukraine.
“The suspension of the Mejlis makes the fate of those members of the Crimean Tatar community who have remained in Crimea even bleaker as they are now at even greater risk of intimidation, harassment and criminal prosecution,” said Krivosheev.
Ethnic Tartars have borne the brunt of Russia’s clampdown in the region.
On March 3, 2014, pro-Russian paramilitaries abducted Reshat Ametov whose mutilated body was found 12 days later.
Since then Amnesty International has documented the suspected enforced disappearance of at least six Crimean Tatars on the peninsula.
While families of the missing have received assurances from the de facto authorities that the disappearances would be effectively investigated, there have been no signs of any genuine inquiries.
“Sadly, today’s decision to suspend the Mejlis is only the latest step in a long line of reprisals against the Crimean Tatar community,” said Krivosheev.
“The rights of the Mejlis to continue to exist and represent the community must be reinstated, and the rights to freedom of association and expression fully respected in Crimea.”
Since the late 1980s, Crimean Tatars begun the painstaking process of re-establishing themselves in the peninsula, four decades after their entire population had been deported to remote parts of the then Soviet Union.